Review of ‘Brother’ by Jim Murray


There are some books that cause me a real pang of regret as I approach the inevitable ending, knowing my relationship with the characters will soon be over. This is how I felt about ‘Brother’, although conversely I was so gripped by it that I had to continue reading the final tantalising chapters in one sitting. I finished it with tears in my eyes… although I’m not going to tell you why. I wouldn’t want to spoil your pleasure. Jim Murray had me hooked from the first few paragraphs, and his narrative kept on reeling me in, chapter after enthralling chapter.

The story line is deceptively simple – or appears to be at the start. Gradually we discover increasingly more of Dominic’s complicated sibling bond with his brother Spencer. Intrinsic to the story is the background to the ongoing feud between the brothers, and Dominic’s perception of Spencer as being the almost demonic changeling baby who burst his childhood Eden bubble and created all the family dysfunction that ensued. Of course in life, as in this novel, nothing is quite so straightforward. Many of Dominic’s perceptions are challenged and altered during the course of the book, as circumstances force him to reflect on the true picture of the past, as well as his various relationships, and the reasons for his own dysfunction.

Who are the real monsters in this novel? As I read on they kept emerging, or seeming to, only to be vindicated or displaced by others. I found myself wondering at one point: was it Dominic who was the real monster? Could he possibly be so out of touch with himself? I was intrigued by his strangely submissive response to the bully Mangan, who reappears like a hungry ghost from the dark vault of his boyhood and intimidates, entraps and manipulates him in adulthood, with dire consequences. This oddly compelling connection between them creates the pivotal thrust of the narrative. I found myself squirming as I read the later chapters, reminded of pantomimes where the audience shouts as the villain appears on stage: “Look out behind you!” The frustrated tension built up as Dominic remained almost willingly blinded by his prejudices and near trancelike acceptance of Mangan’s terrorizing tactics.

I never want to tell too much of the story when I write a review. For me, the quality of the writing and the depth of characterisation are what makes or breaks my enjoyment of a novel, however great the story line might be. Jim Murray is a superb story-teller – that much is a given. But what makes the book a 5* triumph for me is far more than that. His characters, made flesh by the interplay and dialogue between them, have a solid reality to them that made me feel I would recognise them if I met them, and know them deeply. He has a skill for deftly painting their portraits, layer upon layer, so that as a reader you come to understand them in the way that you do your friends: as rounded, utterly believable human beings. His psychological insights are offered with a light, almost invisible touch, which makes their impact all the more profound.

But what delighted me beyond all this was the beauty of Jim Murray’s language, his adroit use of simile and imagery throughout. I made some notes as I read, capturing some of my favourites on the wing:

“…fear re-emerging like a slick black insect unfolding from a pupa…”

“…each morning I entered the school yard as a small bird anticipating a lawn…”

“…many small scars like the slug trails of a hundred shitty days…”

“…my brain buzzed like a flatlining monitor…”

Jim Murray does not flinch from describing bad pennies in all their atrocious, unquenchable behaviour – but he also manages to evoke a degree of sympathy for them, without ever becoming sentimental. In ‘Brother’ he has skilfully woven an epic tapestry out of those traits we least like to own: jealousy, betrayal, murderous hatred – yet ultimately this is a book about love, which in real life is never an easy ride. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly, and I am confident that I’ll enjoy his new one, ‘Double Ugly’, just as much.

Jim Murray

You can find out more about Jim Murray and both his books at his Amazon Author page:

Meet my character: blog tour


Are you perhaps wondering just what a blog tour is? So was I, until Lisa Devaney approached me and asked if I’d participate. I’m tempted to describe it as the blog equivalent of a chain letter, but since I have a never-with-a-barge-pole policy with them, I prefer to think of it as a game of tag, or even better, an author’s relay race – the idea being that you take the baton when it’s passed to you, run with it, then pass it on to other authors. So, to begin with, I extend my hand in gratitude to Lisa Devaney for holding the baton out to me.

Lisa has told me a little about herself, describing how she wrote and illustrated her own comic books as a child, created cartoon-inspired websites in the 90s, and took to the stage in New York City to perform in SLAM-poetry style. Even when spinning publicity campaigns for business clients, Lisa has always been enthralled by storytelling and the mediums that can be used to tell her stories. Her imagination finally led her to writing and self-publishing books, and her debut novel ‘In Ark: A Promise of Survival’ is earning 5* ratings and reviews. I’ll be reviewing it myself in due course. You can follow #InArk on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and read more about Lisa and her novel at her website

In Ark cover for web

The idea of this blog tour is to introduce one of our own invented characters, and tell you more about them. With several novels and three short story collections to choose from, I had a queue of them clamouring for my attention, as soon as I began to muse upon which of them I’d pick. I had them draw lots in the end (some just point blank refused to sink that low) and the one who emerged as the winner is Fynn, the narrator of my novel ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ – typical of her, I might say, to somehow push herself to the front of the queue like that. Of all my characters she certainly is the one with the gift of the gab. She even insisted on writing the novel with her own distinctive voice, rather than let me tell the story.

So now, to comply with the blog tour rules, here are the questions and answers:

What is the name of your character? Are they a fictional or historic person?

Fynn is my character’s name – or is it Kaya? This is a ‘soul name’ bestowed on her in childhood by her ageing hippie mother, Phoebe. Fynn is sceptical and pragmatic, disdaining all things fanciful, but uses the alternative identity of ‘Kaya’ to infiltrate her therapist’s funeral, and the name sticks. She’s a fictional character – she’d probably even say that of herself. One of the things she is well aware of is how much we invent and reinvent ourselves throughout our life – and you might consider, therefore, that there is significance in the fact that it’s in using her ‘soul name’ that she discovers more of who she really is throughout the course of the novel.

When and where is the story set?

The story takes place in the here and now, although if I wanted to be fanciful and clever I’d remind you that the words now and here together make the word nowhere. I just love how words play with our mind (or is it the other way round?) The narrative also takes a bit of a detour into Fynn’s past, much as we all do when we reflect on our life right now and wonder how it was that we got to be exactly here. Our history is only as significant as what we learn from it, and we learn a great deal about Fynn from delving into hers – both childhood and more recent history. The novel is mostly set in Oxford, where she lives, and Cornwall, where her delightful mother, Phoebe, lives, and where she meets the mysterious Jack – another major player in the novel. He looked suitably enigmatic and just smiled when I asked if he wanted to take centre stage for this question and answer session. He knew I knew it was the last thing he’d want.

What should we know about her?

Fynn is strongly independent and a bit of a loner, although if you want to understand more of what she doesn’t reveal – often even to herself – pay particular attention to her relationship with her nefarious cat, Morpheus, which exposes an insecurity and vulnerability she wouldn’t want to own. At the start of the novel you’ll soon discover that she has been in therapy for two years – a last resort after twenty-five years of being haunted by her sister, Abby. She doesn’t believe in ghosts, which is a bit of setback for someone who manages within a few chapters to have two of them dogging her every move. She hasn’t been too successful in relationships, and she certainly isn’t looking for one now. But sometimes relationships – and fate – come looking for you.

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life

Fynn wants to know if her ghosts are real, or whether she is crazy. She is still grieving for her sister – but which of them truly is it who can’t let go? And it’s not just the loss of her sister Abby that haunts her, but everything that went before, and quite a lot since. Her therapist, Paul, had begun to guide her towards the heart of the matter, but then he went and died suddenly and created even more of a mess in her psyche. And what terrible timing – just when she needs him to help her sort out that mess more than ever. Her mother, with a long history of gullibility when it comes to lame dogs and lost souls, seems to have been entirely taken in by Jack, the oddball drifter she met on the beach in Cornwall. He is fast infiltrating himself into Phoebe’s life, and Fynn is suspicious of his motives and protective of her mother. And why is she so strangely drawn to Jack when she doesn’t even like him?

What is the personal goal of the character?

That’s an easy one for me to answer, although I don’t think Fynn herself would be able to articulate it – not at the start of the novel anyway. She sees herself as a free spirit who doesn’t want to be tied down – even though she’s beginning to realise she uncharacteristically tied herself down two years before by adopting a cat and embarking on therapy. What she longs for, couched in denial within her unconscious, is freedom from the pain of grief, and everything that lies behind it: guilt and regret, frozen in time. Isn’t something like that what we all long to be free from? We carry the grief for our own unlived life every day, whether or not we know it. We want to be loved for who we are, and to stand fearlessly in our truth, rather than hide behind an identity that doesn’t honestly reflect who we are. This is very much the underlying theme in the novel, and you will discover in reading it whether this is resolved for Fynn in the end.

What is the title of this novel, and can we read more about it?

‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ is the title – it’s been published on kindle since January 2014. You can read more about it and what led to me writing it on my blog….. and on my website…. and on Goodreads …and of course on Amazon…. where you can also ‘look inside’ and decide whether Fynn’s voice and story is one that speaks to you. All those 5* reviews can’t be wrong!


Today I am nominating two talented authors whose work has excited, fascinated and delighted me in very different ways – they will in turn carry the baton forward and tell you more about their main characters:

Brett Hawkins

Brett lives with his angelic wife, 2 sons and 2 dogs in the Northwestern suburbs of Sydney. After 20 odd years of sailing the high seas of the corporate world plus another 5 running his own business Brett finally made his decision. That thing, the voice, you know, the one that’s been whispering in his ear ever since he was a teenager. Follow your passion the nagging voice kept saying until eventually in late 2013 he listened. Brett’s reunion with his lifelong passion has been an elated one that has spawned his first novel in the making. Entitled ‘The Stars of the Soul’ it is a provoking Science Fiction/Fantasy adventure spanning 1400 years of man’s eternal search for his soul. For sneak peeks and to discover more of Brett’s writing you can visit his blog: Brett’s Future

The-Stars-of-the-Soul-book cover thumbnail

Robin Chambers

Once upon a time Robin was born in Bootle, Liverpool. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but instead was plunged into the maelstrom of inner city education. Even so, he found time to write children’s stories, published by Penguin in the 1970s. He returned to his northern roots after 14 years of headship in Hackney and in 1993 met his wonderful wife Amy. In 2008 they left for a life by the western shores of the Caribbean. Surviving a murder attempt by local thugs in November 2010, Robin realised he could have died without accomplishing a cherished ambition. They returned to the UK and he began work on ‘Myrddin’s Heir’: the epic story that will be his legacy. It took three years to write the first four books and Book 5 was published in April 2014. They are all on kindle at Amazon for just 99p. This magical story is ideal for bright children from 10–110 years of age – longer than ‘The Lord of the Rings’, longer even than the entire ‘Harry Potter’. To complete it Robin reckons he needs to live another 15 years. He has to finish it, because only he knows how it ends… You can find his website at

A Wizard of Dreams-cover

Review of ‘Darkly Wood’ by Max Power

Darkly wood cover revampt and resized

Entering Max Power’s mesmerizing novel is like venturing into Darkly Wood itself. Just as the book within the book, discovered by the heroine Daisy May, begins as a seemingly innocuous tale describing the unfortunate history of those who have wandered past its outskirts, so does the bewitching narrative of the novel prove increasingly sinister, the further in those reckless enough to cross the initial boundaries go.

I was lulled to begin with – just as Daisy was lulled – intrigued by this apparently random collection of tales of people who had one way or another found their dreadful destiny waiting deep in the heart of Darkly Wood. It reminded me, during the first enticing chapters, of those many pleasant hours I spent as a child, sitting by the fire listening to my grandmother recount the old gossipy stories of people she had known – characters whose quirky personalities and drama-soaked lives remained etched on my memory. I therefore stepped boldly and eagerly through the early pages of ‘Darkly Wood’, warmed by the distinctive, lyrical voice of the author and not too alarmed by the increasingly macabre turns of the individual histories of the residents of the village of Cranby, and the narrative itself.

As the novel progressed Daisy’s own story gathered momentum and the account of the history of Darkly Wood was a task taken over by the mysterious Benjamin, who became her companion. By now the novel had taken on certain aspects of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – but a very dark ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (which is, let’s face it, already pretty dark.) I also by now realised that the magic of the story ‘Darkly Wood’ had ensnared me as surely as if I’d been stumbling my way through its dense, shape-shifting forest. There was no discernible exit – only the mystery unfolding, and my increasing fascination to find out how Daisy’s story was resolved. I was taken on a journey as convoluted as a densely thicketed maze, with unexpected openings and suddenly blocked pathways. The novel was Darkly Wood, I realised. Its darkness gathered as I continued to turn the pages with escalating avidity, never sure, even to the very last pages, what would happen next.

But despite your inevitable curiosity I am not going to tell you what happens to Daisy – or to Benjamin – or describe the monster that lurks in Darkly Wood, as fascinating in both essence and history as the Minotaur that is chained, trapped in the very heart of the labyrinth in the ancient Greek myth. That same mythical quality hangs in the air in Darkly Wood – the sense of otherworld and allegory which we instinctively feel drawn to, however terrible. What I will do is urge you to read the book, to allow the experience of it to beguile you and menace you and ultimately touch you to the core with its poignant and unexpected ending. I am giving Max Power’s novel 5* and have already put his second novel ‘Larry Flynn’ on my reading list.


You can find links to Max Power’s novel ‘Darkly Wood’ and learn more about him at

Review: The Song of the Mockingbird by Bill Cronin


Books are like people, in my experience, in that either there is an immediate rapport that can lead to falling in love by chapter 2 and an affair of the heart you never want to end, or a slow burn affection that grows steadily throughout its pages. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be a combination of both. Those are the books you best remember, even many years after having read them. I so wanted Bill Cronin’s book to be one with which I fell in love. The promising subject matter was all there, guaranteed to entice me: the blocked writer with a troubled present and a dark past, scarred with secrets to be uncovered in order to release him from his spell of depression. But it didn’t quite happen for me. About three-quarters of the way through the book there was a moment when I thought it would, when the narrator, Jack McNamara, spoke of the “one true sentence” that he strived for, just as Hemingway had. I believed then that the one true sentence would emerge, either in the dialogue or the interaction between the characters, or in my relationship as a reader with the main protagonist – but although it came close, it somehow missed the mark.

This is my subjective take on it, however, and I am not declaring the book less because of it. I have given it 4 stars, which I think it merits. It would have earned 5* for me if there had been a greater depth of characterisation, and that alchemical magic that occurs between novel and reader that brings about emotional involvement. There were opportunities to expand on the relationship between Jack and his mother, for instance, and although the book was psychologically well observed I never quite connected enough with the central character. The slow burn effect was there, and I warmed to him, and to his half sister, as more of each of them and their history was revealed, but ultimately I remained unconvinced by the emotional veracity of their relationship. I wanted to know more, and to really feel along with Jack as the trickiest aspects of the truth were uncovered. To elicit genuine emotions in the reader is a skill, and I would like to read more of Bill Cronin’s books, as I believe he can do it. As it is, this undoubtedly literary novel is well crafted, well written, and tackles without flinching difficult subjects and those sticky, inexplicable dynamics that fester on in families throughout generations.

The story begins by describing Jack’s dilemma – as a successful well-established author who has been paid a large advance for his next novel, he finds himself unable to write. Whether this creative hiatus has been caused by his slippage into depression, or the other way round, it has become an inescapable cycle of despair. His marriage has been badly scuppered by the lack of attention he has felt able to pay it and as a result has now floundered on the rocks. His wife Emily leaving him is the catalyst for Jack to begin a serious interrogation within himself as to the reasons for his angst, the roots of which seem to be firmly anchored in the various traumatic events that took place during the summer when he was an impressionable boy of 14. This was the time of the inauguration of his career as a writer, when his first short story was published. By then Jack’s mother’s long-time obsession with the work of Ernest Hemingway had transferred itself to him, and with his mother’s encouragement he had continued to identify with Hemingway in the years since. Jack’s journey of self-contemplation in present time continues both inwardly and outwardly as he sets out to track down his long lost half sister, Billie, hoping she will provide the answers to past secrets which have remained locked away since his mother’s death. As we journey with him, we learn much about Jack’s relationship with his judgmental, disparaging, emotionally closed off father, with whom Jack aches to connect. Is Jack’s current inability to write something to do with the fact that his father has never valued writing as a career, and thereby by extension Jack himself? The long undeclared tension between them reaches a climax towards the end of the book. Piece by piece we build up the picture of Jack’s blocked emotions, and by then we have come to hope for some kind of catharsis to release him, not knowing to the very last whether this will bring his wife back or free him into a future in which his anger and confusion about the past have been resolved. You will have to read the book yourself to find the answer – a reading experience you will not regret.

I felt throughout that Bill Cronin dealt with this potentially hazardous psychological material well, and he certainly knows how to tell a tale. His descriptions of the city and country landscapes were superb. So why not give the novel 5*? I suppose I was left wishing this had been a longer, richer and more emotionally and psychologically satisfying novel. I think he has such a book in him, and I’m looking forward to reading his next book, which I understand is already work in progress.

Bill Cronin IMG_83941-472x295

You can find more about Bill Cronin at his website: